Article: Holy symbols

Contributed by Jasmine Kelly

Like all religions, the Jain faith has holy symbols that remind believers of certain principles and traditions and help create a sense of identity based on shared beliefs and practices. Some symbols are also considered auspicious, bringing good fortune and warding off bad luck. Many of these are characteristic of wider Indian culture and are therefore also found in other religions that originated in India, such as Hinduism and Buddhism.

Each of the 24 Jinas has a particular emblem, used as a badge of identity along with a colour. Other traditional Jain sacred symbols include the svastika and the siddhacakra or navapada. Some of these are grouped together as the eight auspicious symbolsaṣṭa-mangala. More recent symbols of Jainism are the Jain flag and the contemporary Jain emblem.

The importance of dreams in wider Indian culture is reflected in Jain stories and legends in which dreams play a key role. Dreams in which events or items appear are often thought to predict the future or reveal hidden facts. Stories that involve dreaming of a lost image of a Jina are often associated with sacred places, which are also pilgrimage sites.

Not all holy symbols are visual or material. Mantras are holy syllables, words, or phrases that are repeated many times, either aloud or silently. Used to focus concentration in meditation, these religious formulas are considered holy and possessed of great spiritual power. This is why mantras are found so often written, painted, carved, embroidered and so on.

The principal Jain sects of Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras differ in their lists of both the eight auspicious symbols and of the emblems of the Jinas. There are also variations in the auspicious dreams in their different versions of certain key tales, such as the dreams seen by a woman pregnant with a Jina-to-be.

The auspicious symbols and practices are frequently found in the Jain religion. Symbols may be worshipped themselves or used in religious rites. Commonly used to decorate temples, ritual objects, clothing and other valued items, they feature in art of all kinds. To Jains the image of a holy symbol takes on some of the spiritual power of the symbol itself and is thus not merely a pretty picture.

Eight auspicious symbols

The eight auspicious symbols – aṣṭa-mangala – are often seen as freestanding metal objects in temples of the Digambara sect. Here, the symbols are lined up in the temple at Panjapattu in Tamil Nadu.

Auspicious symbols in a Digambara temple
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The aṣṭa-mangala or 'eight auspicious symbols' is a collection of the most auspicious and most commonly used holy symbols in Jainism. The Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras have different lists but share the overall themes. These relate primarily either to royalty and status or to wealth, abundance or fertility.

Some symbols, such as the canopy or fly-whisk, are shorthand for royalty or high status in Indian art in general. These underline that the Jina or other holy figure is a spiritual prince, as worthy of honour as a worldly prince.

Eight auspicious symbols

Śvetāmbara list

Digambara list

1

svastika

gilded vase – bhṛngāra

2

śrīvatsa

fly-whisk – cāmara

3

nandyāvarta

banner – dhvaja

4

powder box or flask – vardhamānaka

fan – vyājana

5

throne – bhadrāsana

umbrella or canopy – chatra

6

full water-jug – kalaśa

seat of honour – supratiṣṭha

7

pair of fish – matsyayugma

full water-jug – kalaśa

8

mirror – darpaṇa

mirror – darpaṇa

Symbols of affluence and fertility, such as the full jug or pitcher, represent the notion of growth and development. These ideas are important in Jainism because Jains must travel their paths of spiritual progress alone, each one responsible only for his or her own soul. By moving through the cycle of rebirth over hundreds and thousands of lifetimes, a soul grows gradually purer, uncluttered by karma, and can eventually attain final emancipation.

Svastika, nandyāvarta and śrīvatsa

One of the eight auspicious symbols, the śrīvatsa is frequently found on the chest in images of Jinas.

Endless knot or śrīvatsa
Image by Rick J Pelleg © public domain

 Some of the eight auspicious symbols are also the badges of a few of the Jinas. As symbols first found in Indian civilisations going back thousands of years, these ancient icons have been widespread throughout wider Indian culture for a very long time. These symbols are thus significant in their own right and are found throughout Jain art and manuscripts as well as in temples, mendicant lodgings and so on.

The svastika or swastika is a cross with each of its four arms bent at a right angle and turned in a clockwise direction. Derived from a Sanskrit word meaning 'well-being' – svasti – the word itself connotes 'good' and 'beneficial'. Considered highly lucky, the svastika sign has two main interpretations in Jainism. In the first, the svastika's four arms correspond to the four possible states of existencegati – in the world of rebirth. In the second, the arms represent the fourfold Jain community – caturvidha-sangha. The table provides details of these two readings.

Jain interpretations of the svastika

Four gatis

Fourfold community

heavenly being

monks

infernal being

nuns

animal

lay men

human being

women

The svastika is frequently depicted with three dots above, topped by a horizontal crescent above the dots. The three dots stand for the three jewels of Jainism, which are the path to liberation. The crescent represents the siddha-śilā, where liberated souls live in eternal bliss, and which Jains hope to reach eventually.

A shape like a larger, more complex version of a svastika or a labyrinth, the nandyāvarta hassimilar associations to the svastika. The Sanskrit term nandī means 'joy, prosperity'.

The śrīvatsa is a diamond-shaped mark on the chest of the Jinas. It is often visible on sculptures or pictures of the Jinas.

Siddhacakra or navapada

This manuscript painting of a Svetāmbara siddhacakra shows the five highest beings in Jain belief, depicted in different colours. The petals in between contain Sanskrit mantras praising the 'four fundamentals'. It is a visual summary of key Jain doctrines

Siddhacakra
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The siddhacakra or navapada is the most popular yantra in Jainism. The Sanskrit word siddhacakra means 'circle of perfection' and is the Śvetāmbara term. The sect of the Digambaras calls the same symbol navapada.

As its name suggests, the siddhacakra has nine parts and looks like a flower with eight petals. The nine components represent the Five Entities and the Three Jewels of:

The last element symbolises a characteristic that is often dubbed the fourth jewel – 'right austerity'. Devout Jains must follow the examples of the Five Holy Entities and strive to practise the last four qualities. Thus all nine elements are vital to attaining liberation.

It is closely associated with the Namaskāra-mantra, which pays homage to the Five Entities. A Prakrit formula, it can be recited at any time.

The siddhacakra is found in many temples and is an important part of many rituals. It plays a central role in rites performed during the festival of Āyambil Oḷī and the associated fast.

Jain flag

Becoming popular in the late 20th century, the Jain flag contains several holy symbols. While the colours represent the Jinas and the Five Supreme Beings, there are also the svastika, three jewels and the crescent holding a liberated soul.

Jain flag
Image by Jaume Ollé © CC BY-SA 3.0

The Jain flag has five horizontal bands of different colours. From top to bottom, the colours are red, yellow, white, green and dark blue, or black.

In the centre, on the white band, is a svastika, with three dots above it and a crescent at the top. The dot above the crescent represents a liberated soul. These are all in orange.

The colours used in the flag are significant. The coloured bands are the emblematic hues of the 24 Jinas and can also represent the Five Holy Entities, who are very honoured in Jainism. The colour orange is associated with one of the Five Holy Entities, namely the ācārya or head monk. Shades of orange and saffron have been linked with religion in India for millennia and orange robes are often worn in religious ceremonies by Hindus and Buddhists as well as Jains.

The origin of the flag is difficult to pin down but it has become fairly widespread since the late 20th century. It is frequently seen flying from the top of temples and is commonly paraded in the processions that are elements of Jain festivals. It could have an ancestor in the banner – dhavja – which is one of the auspicious dreams and, as such, is holy. The banner and other dreams are listed in the Śvetāmbara scripture called the Kalpa-sūtra, which is generally considered to date back to at least the 5th century CE.

Jain symbol

Adopted in 1975, the Jain emblem is made up of key symbols. The cosmic man encloses the siddha-śilā and liberated soul, the three jewels, a svastika, the hand of non-violence, wheel of the cycle of birth and 24 Jinas, a mantra and Tattvartha-sūtra verse.

Jain emblem
Image by Mpanchratan © CC BY-SA 3.0

The Jain symbol is in the shape of the cosmic man. Inside the outline of the cosmic man is a background comprised of the five colours of the Jain flag, though the colours are not always used. Inside the shape are a svastika topped with three dots, a crescent and another dot. Below the svastika is an open hand, on the palm of which is a mantra in a wheel. The mantra is the word ahiṃsā – non-violence.

The colours that often form the symbol's background are associated with the 24 Jinas and the Five Holy Entities. The cosmic man is the standard depiction of the three worlds of the traditional Jain universe. Resembling the shape made by a man standing with his hands on his waist, the three worlds are the environment through which Jains believe the soul passes in the cycle of birth over many thousands of years. The lower world holds the hells, the middle world is where human beings live and the upper world is the domain of the gods. At the top of the worlds is the crescent-shaped siddha-śilā, home of emancipated souls.

The sign of the svastika represents either the four modes of existence or the fourfold Jain community. The set of dots symbolises the three jewels of Jainism while the crescent represents the siddha-śilā, with a liberated soul depicted as a dot within it.

The open hand reminds believers to always stop and think before acting, specifically to obey the cardinal principle of the Jain faith – ahiṃsā. The wheel represents the cycle of rebirth, through which the soul is fated to pass until it is liberated when it reaches the highest level of spiritual purity. Someone who does harm and does not follow the principles of Jainism remains trapped in the cycle of rebirth. The 24 spokes of the wheel symbolise the teachings of the 24 Jinas, which can help believers make spiritual progress towards enlightenment and then emancipation.

At the bottom is a verse from the Tattvartha-sūtra scripture, which is often translated as 'Souls give service to one another'.

The 2500th anniversary of the liberation of the last Jina, Mahāvīra, was celebrated in 1975. On this date the worldwide Jain community selected this emblem to represent their faith, since it incorporates several important religious symbols. Since then the symbol has enjoyed widespread currency, used both to represent the Jains to outsiders and within the Jain community. It is used in magazines, websites and community publications as well as during festivals and other community events.

Dreams

This manuscript painting shows learned men interpreting the dreams of the woman carrying a baby who will grow up to become a Jina. In Jain tradition, dreams often herald the birth of the great individuals whose stories are told in Jain Universal History.

Interpreting dreams
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The motif of the dream features in many Jain stories and legends, usually as a way of bringing hidden knowledge to light. Dreams may foretell the future, instruct the dreamer or point to concealed religious artefacts. Revelatory or predictive dreams are common in Indian culture and dreams in Jain stories are primarily connected with the Jinas, the pivotal figures in Jain belief. Events and symbols that appear in famous dreams are frequently found in Jain literature and art of all kinds. However, the symbols and events in a dream are often hard to understand and interpreters are needed to decipher the meanings of dreams.

The best-known dreams in Jain legend are those experienced by the mothers of potential Jinas. The pregnant woman has 14 or 16 dreams that follow a strict sequence. The sect of the Digambaras believes that she has 16 while the Śvetāmbaras claim she has 14. Containing symbols that are linked with royal power, victory, power and luck in Indian culture, these auspicious dreams hint at the destiny of the embryo as a spiritual ruler. The Kalpa-sūtra, a Śvetāmbara scripture, details the dreams at some length, and has a central part in the festival of Paryuṣan. The auspicious dreams are frequently seen as carvings or paintings in temples. The mothers of other kinds of mythical individuals, namely the universal monarchs or cakravartins, Baladevas and Vāsudevas in Jain Universal History, also have a set number of similar dreams.

Another famous dream story in Jain legend relates to alms. Lay people who offer alms to monks and nuns must follow an ancient ritual and the mendicants who receive alms must also obey longstanding rules. These two sides to the ceremony, which is enacted daily all over India, are highlighted in the dream of Prince Śreyāṃsa. He was the first person to give alms correctly to the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. The Jina had been fasting for over a year because no one knew how to offer alms properly to him. Śreyāṃsa dreamed that the monk would seek alms at his house and dreamed about what to offer him and the right way to do it. Thanks to this dream, Ṛṣabha was able to break his fast in the ceremony of pāraṇā. This event is commemorated in the festival of Akṣaya-tṛtīyā.

Dreams have also been key in creating or reviving pilgrimage destinations. For centuries Jains have performed journeys to holy sites, which are usually associated with events in the lives of the Jinas. In legend, a dream may have led the dreamer to found a site of pilgrimage. Periods of political and religious turmoil in Indian history often led to a site's falling into disuse, being taken over by followers of another faith, or the hiding or removal of an idol. In many semi-legendary cases, a devotee uncovers a hidden image after dreaming that a deity or Jina has revealed its existence and location. This unearthed idol is housed in a new temple and becomes the focus of worship.

Mantras

Dating back to the 18th century, this yantra has the mantras of auṃ and hrīṃ in its centre. A yantra is an aid to meditation, which is one of the six mental austerities that detaches karma from the soul.

Hrīṃ yantra
Image by Anishshah19 © PD-Art

A mantra is a sound, word or phrase that is accorded great spiritual power when recited correctly. Chanting it either silently or out loud, people usually repeat it many times, drawing out and increasing its spiritual influence. A mantra is believed to bring good fortune and keep the chanter safe.

Mantras are often an aid in meditation because chanting a holy formula helps to focus the mind of the meditator and lessen distractions.

The most common sacred formula in the Jain faith is the Namaskāra-mantra. Recited at any time, the Namaskāra-mantra is performed by all Jain sects, although some sects have slightly different versions.

Another widespread mantra is Oṃ – more properly Auṃ – which is also popular in Hinduism and Buddhism. In Jainism the letters of the word refer to significant concepts in the faith, namely:

  • 'A' – Arhats, siddhas and ācāryas
  • 'U' – teachers
  • 'M' – mendicants.

Reciting the mantra properly involves enunciating all the letters in a single sound held for a long time.

There are many other holy syllables such as hrīṃ, klīṃ, klauṃ, which are used along with sacred diagrams or yantras. Yantras often contain mantras.

Mantras are found very frequently on clothing, temples and other buildings, signs, manuscripts and publications and all kinds of objects. Using a mantra as decoration is more than a visual design choice. The spiritual power believed to reside in these holy formulas is thought to be transferred to the item that the mantra decorates. Therefore adding a mantra to a garment is believed to protect the wearer and bring him or her good luck.

Images

  • Auspicious symbols in a Digambara temple The eight auspicious symbols – aṣṭa-mangala – are often seen as freestanding metal objects in temples of the Digambara sect. Here, the symbols are lined up in the temple at Panjapattu in Tamil Nadu.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Endless knot or śrīvatsa One of the eight auspicious symbols, the śrīvatsa is frequently found on the chest in images of Jinas.. Image by Rick J Pelleg © public domain
  • Siddhacakra This manuscript painting of a Svetāmbara siddhacakra shows the five highest beings in Jain belief in different colours. The petals in between contain Sanskrit mantras praising the 'four fundamentals'. A visual summary of key Jain doctrines, the siddhacakra is associated with the namaskāra-mantra. The most popular yantra, it is worshipped in festival rites and features in many art forms.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Jain flag Becoming popular in the late 20th century, the Jain flag contains several holy symbols. The colours represent the Jinas and the Five Supreme Beings. The four arms of the holy svastika represent either the four conditions of existence – gati – or the fourfold community. The three dots above symbolise the 'three jewels' of the Jain faith while the crescent represents the siddha-śilā, with a liberated soul inside.. Image by Jaume Ollé © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Jain emblem Adopted in 1975, the Jain emblem is made up of several symbols central to Jainism. The shape of the cosmic man represents the three worlds, with the crescent shape of the siddha-śilā at the top, a liberated soul inside. Below it are dots representing the three jewels of Jain belief, set above the svastika symbolising the fourfold community or four conditions of existence. Underneath is the open hand of non-violence, containing the wheel symbolising the cycle of rebirth and the 24 Jinas. At the bottom is a verse from the Tattvartha-sūtra, which is often translated as 'Souls give service to one another'.. Image by Mpanchratan © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Interpreting dreams This manuscript painting shows learned men interpreting the dreams of the woman carrying a baby who will grow up to become a Jina. In Jain tradition, dreams often herald the birth of the great individuals whose stories are told in Jain Universal History. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Hrīṃ yantra Dating back to the 18th century, this yantra has the mantras of auṃ and hrīṃ in its centre. A yantra is an aid to meditation, which is one of the six mental austerities that detaches karma from the soul. The two auspicious syllables refer to the five religious authorities and help the chanters see the truth of the universe.. Image by Anishshah19 © PD-Art

Further Reading

Absent Lord: Ascetics and Kings in a Jain Ritual Culture
Lawrence A. Babb
Comparative Studies in Religion & Society series; volume 8
University of California Press; Berkeley, California, USA; 1996

Full details

Organizing Jainism in India and England
Marcus Banks
Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology series; volume 3
Clarendon Press; Oxford, UK; 1992

Full details

The Story of Kālaka: Texts, History, Legends, and Miniature Paintings of the Śvetāmbara Jain Hagiographical Work, the Kālakācāryakathā
W. Norman Brown
Freer Gallery of Art – Oriental Studies series; volume 1
Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution; Washington DC, USA; 1933

Full details

A Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of Miniature Paintings of the Jaina Kalpasūtra as executed in the Early Western Indian Style
W. Norman Brown
Freer Gallery of Art – Oriental Studies series; volume 2
The Lord Baltimore Press / Smithsonian Institution; Washington DC, USA; 1934

Full details

Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India
John E. Cort
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2001

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

Jaina Temple Architecture in India: The Development of a Distinct Language in Space and Ritual
Julia A. B. Hegewald
Monographien zur Indischen Archäologie, Kunst und Philologie series; volume 19
Stiftung Ernst Waldschmidt, G+H Verlag; Berlin, Germany; 2009

Full details

The Archetypal Actions of Ritual: A Theory Illustrated by the Jain Rite of Worship
Caroline Humphrey
and James Laidlaw
Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology series
Clarendon Press; Oxford, England UK; 1994

Full details

'The Kalpa Sûtra of Bhadrabâhu'
Bhadrabāhu
translated and edited by Hermann Jacobi
Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes
Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft series; series editor Otto Loth; volume VII: 1
F. A. Brockhaus; Leipzig, Saxony, Germany; 1879

Full details

'Kalpa Sûtra'
translated and edited by Hermann Jacobi
Jaina Sutras: Âkârâṅga Sûtra and Kalpa Sûtra
Sacred Books of the East series; series editor F. Max Müller; volume 22: 1
Clarendon Press; Oxford, England UK; 1884

Full details

'Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra'
translated and edited by Hermann Jacobi
Jaina Sutras Part II: Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra and Sûtrakritâṅga
Sacred Books of the East series; series editor F. Max Müller; volume 45
Clarendon Press; Oxford, England UK; 1895

Full details

Jaina Iconography
Jyotindra Jain
and Eberhard Fischer
Iconography of Religions – Indian Religions series; volume 13: 12 and 13
Institute of Religious Iconography, State University of Groningen; E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1978

Full details

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 1
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1931

Full details

Singing to the Jinas: Jain Laywomen, Maṇḍaḷ Singing and the Negotiations of Jain Devotion
M. Whitney Kelting
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2001

Full details

Heroic Wives: Rituals, Stories and the Virtues of Jain Wifehood
M. Whitney Kelting
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2009

Full details

Riches and Renunciation: Religion, Economy and Society among the Jains
James Laidlaw
Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology series
Oxford University Press; Oxford, UK; 1995

Full details

Kalpa Sūtra of Bhadrabāhu Svāmī
Bhadrabāhu
translated by Kastur Chand Lalwani
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 1979

Full details

Studies in Jaina Art
Umakant Premanand Shah
Abhinav Publications; Banaras, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1955

Full details

Jaina-Rūpa-Maṇḍana
Umakant Premanand Shah
Abhinav Publications; New Delhi, India; 1987

Full details

Steps to Liberation: 2500 Years of Jain Art and Religion
Jan van Alphen
Etnografisch Museum Antwerpen; Antwerp, Belgium; 2000

Full details

Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

Full details

Jaina Yoga: A Survey of the Mediaeval Śrāvakācāras
Robert Williams
London Oriental series; volume XIV
Oxford University Press; London, UK; 1963

Full details

Glossary

Ācārya

Preceptor, teacher. A title given to a Jain religious teacher, usually one who is a head monk.

Alms

Food, money, medicine, clothing or anything else given to another person as a religious or charitable act. Asking for and giving alms is a significant part of Jainism, as it forms a daily point of contact between lay people and mendicants. Seeking, donating and receiving alms are highly ritualised ceremonies in the Jain tradition, and spiritual purity is essential for both giver and recipient. Giving alms is a way for lay Jains to gain merit – puṇya.

Ascetic

Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.

Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.

Auspicious

Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future. 

Baladeva

One of the five types of 'great men' – śalākā-puruṣas or mahā-puruṣas – in Jain Universal History, Baladevas are the older half-brothers of the Vāsudevas, sharing the same fathers. They are both demi-Cakravartins or half Universal Rulers. In the part of the universe where humans live, nine Baladevas are born in each progressive and regressive half-cycle of time. Baladevas are devout Jains who, after renouncing the world to become monks, are usually liberated but may be reborn as gods in one of the heavens. Baladevas are also known as Balabhadras.

Buddhism

The religion founded by Buddha, often called the 'Middle Way' between the self-indulgence of worldly life and the self-mortification of a very ascetic way of life. Buddhism has similarities to Jain belief but some significant differences. For example, Buddhists hold that the world around us is a short-lived illusion and do not believe in individual, everlasting souls.

Buddhist

A follower of Buddhism. There are two main schools of Buddhism, namely:

  • Theravāda – 'the Teaching of the Elders' in Pali – is older and is found chiefly in Sri Lanka and continental South East Asia
  • Māhayana – 'Great Vehicle' in Sanskrit – is the larger sect and is followed mainly in East Asia and the Himalayan nations.

Both sects are practised in India.

Cakravartin

Sanskrit for 'universal monarch'. There are 12 in the continent of Bharata in each progressive and regressive half-cyle of time. They have 9 treasures and 14 jewels they can use to conquer their enemies and become 'universal monarchs'. The cakravartin form one of the five groups of '63 illustrious men' in Jain mythology.

Carũrī

Usually written as 'chowrie' in English, the Hindi carũrī is a fly-whisk or fan. It is probably descended from the Sanskrit term cāmara, which means a 'yak-tail fan'. Like the cāmara, the chowrie is used to fan royalty or priests and thus signifies high status in Indian art.

Common Era

The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.

Deity

A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.

Devotee

An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.

Dhyāna

Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.

Digambara

'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Fast

Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:

  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.

Festival

A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history. 

Gati

Type of destiny, mode of rebirth in the cycle of rebirth. There are four:

  • god
  • human being
  • animal
  • infernal being.

Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā or 'soul-quest'.

Hindu

Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.

Hinduism

The majority faith in India, often called Sanātana Dharma or Eternal Law. With no single named founder, Hinduism has a pantheon of gods and a range of different beliefs. Most Hindu traditions revere the Veda literature but there is no single system of salvation or belief, although many Hindus believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Large Hindu communities exist in southern Asia, with smaller groups across the world.

Hrīṃ

A sacred symbol or mantra that controls the false world that people experience.

Idol

An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.

Jain

Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

Jina

A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.

Jīva

Sanskrit for 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.

Kevala-jñāna

Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge, where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.

Laity

Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.

Loka-puruṣa

The ‘cosmic man’ whose standing form represents the upper, middle and lower worlds in Jain cosmology. The middle world of human beings is found at his waist.

Mantra

A sacred sound, syllable, word or phrase that is believed to produce spiritual change if recited correctly. A mantra can be recited aloud or silently, and is often repeated. Mantras are closely associated with religions that originated in India, such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Jainism. The chief Jain mantra is the Namaskāra-mantra, which is recited daily, while another mantra very popular in Indian culture generally is Auṃ.

Mokṣa

The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.

Namaskāra-mantra

Sanskrit for 'homage formula', the Namaskāra-mantra is the fundamental religious formula of the Jains. A daily prayer always recited in the original Prākrit, it pays homage to the supreme beings or five types of holy being:

  1. arhat - enlightened teacher
  2. siddha - liberated soul
  3. ācārya - mendicant leader
  4. upādhyāya - preceptor or teacher
  5. sādhu - mendicant

Note that chanting the mantra is not praying for something, material or otherwise. Also known as the Pañca-namaskāra-mantra or 'Fivefold Homage mantra', it is also called the Navakāra-mantra or Navkār-mantra in modern Indian languages.

Naraka

Hell. There are seven levels of hells in the lower world of Jain cosmology.

Parameṣṭhin

The ‘supreme beings’ in Sanskrit, also known as the pañca-parameṣṭhin or 'Five Supreme Beings'. A term for the categories of teachers who are paid homage in the Namaskāra-mantra:

  • enlightened teachers – Arhats
  • liberated souls – siddhas
  • mendicant leaders – ācāryas
  • mendicant tutors – upādhyāyas
  • mendicants – sādhus.

Pilgrimage

A journey to a place of religious significance. Some religions encourage pilgrimage as ways to advance spiritual progress and deepen the faith of those who make the trip – pilgrims.

Prākrit

A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.

Pūjā

Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:

  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.

Ratna-traya

The ‘three jewels’ that form the fundamentals of Jainism, without which spiritual progress is impossible. They are:

  • right faith – samyak-darśana
  • right knowledge – samyak-jñāna
  • right conduct – samyak-cāritra.

Rite

A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.

Ṛṣabha

First Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the ox or bull. There is little historical evidence of his existence. Jains believe that he established many social institutions, such as marriage and the caste system, and introduce crafts and agriculture to the people.

Saṃsāra

Cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth caused by karma binding to the soul as a result of activities. Only by destroying all karma can this perpetual cycle finish in mokṣa – liberation. The karma gained in life affects the next life, and even future lives, for example:

  • in which of the three worlds the life is lived out
  • which of four conditions – gati – the body takes, namely human, divine, hellish or as a plant or animal.

Samyak-cāritra

'Right conduct'. A person who has faith in the principles of Jainism and knows them should put them into practice. This is the third of the Three Jewels vital for spiritual progress.

Samyak-darśana

'Right insight' or the proper view of reality, which means faith in the principles of Jainism taught by the Jinas. The first of the Three Jewels of Jainism and a necessary first step in spiritual progress.

Samyak-jñāna

'Right knowledge'. Once one believes the principles of Jainism, one has to learn them and know them properly. The second of the Three Jewels.

Saṇgha

Sanskrit for 'community'. The Jain ‘fourfold community’ is composed of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women.

Sanskrit

A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.

Scripture

Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.

Sect

An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.

Siddha

An omniscient soul that has achieved mokṣa. All liberated souls live in the siddha-śilā, at the top of the universe, in perpetual bliss.

Siddha-śilā

The realm of liberated souls, at the apex of the universe. All the liberated souls – siddha – dwell there in eternal bliss.

Siddhacakra or Navadevatā

The most common mystical diagram – yantra – in Jainism, which is believed to destroy karma and bring prosperity and good luck. There are nine parts, usually arranged in the shape of a lotus flower. The Five Highest Beings are depicted on five parts of the yantra. On the four other parts, there are sectarian differences.

Digambaras call it the navadevatā or navdevata or navpad. The other four elements for them are:

  • a Jina image
  • a temple
  • the dharma-cakra or sacred wheel of law
  • the speech of the Jinas, in the scriptures.

For Śvetāmbaras it is the siddhacakra or navapada or navpad, which has representations of:

  • the 'three jewels' of Jain tradition
  • 'right austerity', often called the 'fourth jewel'.

Śvetāmbara

'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Tapas

Austerity or asceticism in general. A tapas is an act of austerity or self-discipline that produces bodily heat – tapas – that burns up karma. Austerities may be internal – mental – or external – physical. Both lay and mendicant Jains practise austerities. Fasting is the most common external austerity for lay people these days.

Temple

A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.

Three worlds

In Jain cosmology three worlds make up world space, where life exists:

  • ūrdhva-loka – upper world
  • madhya-loka– middle world
  • adho-loka – lower world.

These are frequently represented in art as the Cosmic Man, a human figure whose legs stand for the lower world, whose waist symbolises the middle world and whose torso represents the upper world.

Upāśraya

Dwelling-hall near a Jain temple where wandering ascetics stay. They may stay for a short time during their travels or for the long rainy season. There is usually a main room where lay Jains come to listen to sermons. Lay people may also perform fasts here, such as upadhāna tapas or rituals such as posadha that involve leaving household activities for a while.

Vāsudeva

One of the five types of 'great men' – śalākā-puruṣas or mahā-puruṣas – in Jain Universal HistoryVāsudevas are the younger half-brothers of the Baladevas, sharing the same fathers. They are both demi-Cakravartins or half Universal Rulers. In the part of the universe where humans live, nine Vāsudevas are born in each progressive and regressive half-cycle of time. Each one battles his mortal enemy, one of the Prati-vāsudevas. For breaking the principle of non-violence, the Vāsudevas are reborn as hell-beings – nārakis. Some may then become Jinas in their next lives. Vāsudevas are also known as Nārāyaṇa.

Yantra

Sanskrit for 'instrument' or 'machine', a yantra is a mystical diagram used in religious rituals. Yantras are typically formed of symmetrical, concentric circles and may also have the diagram of a lotus in the middle of numerous squares. Containing the names of the Jinas and sacred mantras, such as oṃ, yantras are meditation aids.

EXT:mediabrowse Processing Watermark

Related Manuscripts

  • Victory banner

    Victory banner

    Victoria and Albert Museum. IM 89-1936. Unknown author. 1447

  • Modern title page

    Modern title page

    British Library. Or. 13741. Mānatunga. Perhaps 18th to 19th centuries

Related Manuscript Images

http://www.jainpedia.org/themes/principles/holy-symbols/mediashow/print.html - All text is © JAINpedia / Institute of Jainology 2020 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 licence The Jain universe online at www.jainpedia.org

Unless images are explicitly stated as either public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons licence, all images are copyrighted. See individual images for details of copyright.